Gabriel on his growth during his Gunners journey

Gabriel on his growth during his Gunners journey

One of the longer-serving members of the squad, Gabriel is completely at home in his surroundings, a fact borne out by his magnificent displays again this season

A new centre-back pairing looks set to enter into Arsenal folklore. Adams and Bould, Campbell and Toure, Mertesacker and Koscielny – and back even to Simpson and McLintock in the 1970s – all proved to be dynamic duos, thwarting attacks up and down the country.

Now William Saliba and Gabriel are following in their footsteps, growing week on week as a partnership, and once they again have been a major factor in our miserly defensive record in the Premier League.

Last season the two formed our central defensive partnership in all but four of our 38 league games, and each of the last 27. The concepts of togetherness and unity are summed up by the way the two imposing defenders complement and work for each other – on and off the pitch.

At 26, Gabriel is the senior man in the partnership, both in terms of age and experience. Big Gabi is closing in on 200 appearances for the Gunners (167 and counting), having barely missed a game since joining in 2020. In fact in the current squad only Bukayo Saka has started more often for the first-team.

The Brazil international has steadily established himself as one of the Premier League’s most consistent and solid defenders in that time, adding defensive nous to the undoubted talent that was evident when he signed from Lille four years ago.

In that sense his career has just continued to evolve how it always has, ever since appearing for his first club Avai back in Santa Catarina, southern Brazil, which he joined when he was 12.

“I was always a defender,” Gabi begins. “Sometimes I played left back, but not too often – I usually played centre back. I was always quite a tall boy for my age. Not too strong, but big!

“I had been in the team at Avai for a couple of years before I was made captain. When I first arrived I didn’t talk too much but after a while when I got to know the players, then I fitted in well. I liked to have a laugh with them; I was more relaxed. I am still friends with some of them. Raphinha, who is now at Barcelona, was there with me too. We played together there. We had a good team!

“I was always one of the leaders in the group – I think if you are a defender, you have to be. That’s natural. You always have to be talking as a defender, and I was like that from a young age too. You have to be together with your teammates.

“My favourite moment from my time at Avai was playing a big game in the derby. It was against Figueirense, we won 3-2, and I scored one of the goals. A header of course!” he smiles. “Not like the goal that was disallowed against Bournemouth – that was the first time in my life I’d ever scored a goal like that!”

After four years with Avai, Gabi moved to Europe, signing for Ligue 1 side Lille in 2017, when still a teenager. It was, he admits, a huge change in his life.

“There are a lot of differences between playing in Brazil and playing in Europe,” he says. “The main one for me was the language. When I got to France, the first year was a little bit difficult. I needed to learn the language, and also the weather was a shock!

“In Brazil it would be 25 or 27 degrees, then when I got to France all of a sudden it was minus temperatures. It was the first time in my life I had experienced that. But at the time you learn, you make the changes, and you get bigger as a player and a person.”

"I was always one of the leaders in the group – I think if you are a defender, you have to be"

Gabi says that the support he had from the people around him, from his family, friends and teammates, played a big part in helping him to settle. But the main factor was his determination to adapt to the local way of life and the dressing room ethos.

“There were a couple of other Portuguese speakers in the team,” he explains. “But I wanted to learn French, so when I went to dinner or went out after training I would go with the French people. That’s how I learned to speak French quickly, and that helped me. I lived alone when I arrived in France, but then after two months my mum and dad came over with me. That made it better too.”

So what about on the pitch? Did Gabi find a big difference in styles between the football he had grown up with in Brazil, compared to the French top flight?

“It was quicker in France. You have to understand quickly what the coach wants, and learn some different parts of defending. I think that took me a year maybe, then after that I started to play a lot of games.

“It’s not true that all Brazilians just want to attack!” he adds. “I was always defensive, but now the football everywhere demands you to come forward and play with the ball more.”

“Whenever I hear my own song... wow, it’s incredible. I’m so happy about that – it’s a dream for me”

Gabi’s form for Lille, especially in his final season in 2019/20, resulted in the move to Arsenal, when Mikel Arteta made the left-footed defender one of his very first signings, during the lockdown season in September 2020.

We have signed another 20 players since then, and looking back, Gabi says the club has changed a lot, just during the course of his Gunners career so far.

“When I came, maybe the club wasn’t in a good moment. The feeling we get whenever we are at Emirates Stadium now though is unbelievable. They are pushing us, supporting us – it’s amazing.

“Whenever I hear my own song as well... wow, it’s incredible,” he adds. “I’m so happy about that – it’s a dream for me. I always want to thank the Gunners fans for that, because I love it. I think it was my wife who heard it first on social media. She was so happy too.

“But having that support for the whole team is so important for us when we are at home. They stay with us always. And also I always love the support we get from the away fans. Every stadium we go to, we can hear them – it’s amazing.”

Much of the club’s transformation over the past few years, he believes, is down to the togetherness not only among the players and coaching staff, but with the supporters and whole Arsenal family.

“Everybody wants the same thing: to win titles,” he says. “The team needs to be together if we are to achieve that in future. Everyone has that same mentality, and we are all determined for it. That’s the way to go forward.

“It comes from everyone, not just the players. Togetherness means one group. Your family, your friends, your teammates, the coaches, the chefs – everyone needs to do their thing for the group.

“Here, how we play, how we stick together, how we work for each other – I’ve never seen this anywhere else before. It’s a dream for me to be a part of it.”

Big Gabi is a hugely popular and respected throughout the squad. His time in France and command of the language has certainly helped his relationship with Saliba, and he’s also naturally close with his two namesakes and compatriots Martinelli and Jesus, as well as the other Portuguese speakers in the squad: “For sure that helps too. We speak every day, and it’s great to have other Brazilians here, and the Portuguese guys. We have a good energy here.”

The Brazilian Premier League contingent as a whole is also extensive, and Gabi reveals he is good friends with Andreas Pereira at Fulham. He also sees plenty of his family whenever possible.

His sisters, brother and parents are all visiting him currently, and the fact that this interview was conducted in English (with Jorginho on hand for the odd translated word) is further evidence of just how at ease Gabi is now around the club.

It’s clear that with Gabi at the heart of our defence, the future is solid, and if he continues to develop and improve at his current rate, the foundations for success are only getting stronger.

See Full List

Fixtures & Results

Friendly Match
Ticket Info